Relentless diplomacy, credible defence, strong NATO

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on receiving the "Diplomat of the Year" award by Foreign Policy magazine

  • 12 Nov. 2019 -
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  • Last updated 18-Nov-2019 11:38

(As delivered)

Many thanks to Ambassador Hutchison and Sir Stuart for your kind words.

And excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

It is great to see so many friends in the audience. And it is really great to be here tonight because Foreign Policy Magazine is a key outlet for decision-makers around the world, including me.

So it is really a great honour to be here tonight and to receive this prestigious ‘Diplomat of the Year’ award.

It is also a nice surprise! Because to be honest, I’ve never regarded myself as a diplomat. Because I’m a politician.

But it is good for everyone, including for politicians, to have diplomatic skills.

And to me personally, diplomacy has always been very close to my heart. My father was a diplomat. He had postings in San Francisco, Belgrade, in Yugoslavia, that was the name at that time, and Copenhagen. He taught me to listen, to be patient and to embrace different points of view. Above all, he taught me the importance of compromise.

These were all very valuable lessons on the ‘art of diplomacy’. Lessons that I have embraced fully throughout my life and my political career. And that I put to a whole new level… when I married a diplomat. As we know, there is no greater test of your diplomatic skills than marriage!

For the past five years, I have had the privilege to serve as the Secretary General of NATO. This is a political and military Alliance of 29 countries, soon to be 30. All decisions are taken by consensus. So diplomacy is in action every day. From high-level Summits and Ministerial meetings to our day-to-day negotiations. Getting 29 nations to reach consensus takes a great deal of astute diplomacy. Because Allies don’t always see eye-to-eye. We are democracies. We have our differences. And this sometimes leads to tough talks.

But we do not shy away from having frank and open discussions. Because that is the only way we can build common positions. And when all 29 Allies agree, our decisions are stronger.

So ladies and gentlemen,

We all want our countries and our people to be safe. But we also know that peace and security can never be taken for granted. And that our rules-based international order is under increased pressure. So tonight, I want to make a case for relentless transatlantic diplomacy, backed by credible transatlantic defence. In other words, a case for NATO!

 Our Alliance is unmatched. We protect close to 1 billion citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. So what we say and what we do carries a great deal of weight. To navigate this unpredictable and challenging world, we must remain politically united and militarily strong.

We all know Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote:

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”.

This combination of diplomacy backed by military power has formed the basis of NATO’s strength and success over the years. 

Because our security cannot rely on the size and strength of our armed forces only. Security also requires engaging in a dialogue with our potential adversaries to defuse tensions.

It is often said that there is no military solution to conflict. At the same time, history shows that military strength is often required to find a sustainable political solution. Indeed, it was the combination of strong deterrence and frank dialogue with the Soviet Union that eventually led to reductions in nuclear weapons in the 1980s. And reductions in conventional military forces in Europe after the end of the Cold War.

It was political unity combined with determined military force that stopped the bloodshed in the Balkans in the 1990s. And NATO’s military power together with its diplomatic outreach were a catalyst for momentous political change across Central and Eastern Europe, after the fall of Communism.

To this day, we continue to combine meaningful dialogue with credible deterrence and defence. Including when it comes to dealing with Russia.  We see a more assertive Russia. Illegally annexing Crimea. Destabilising Ukraine. Meddling in our political processes. And investing in modern military equipment, including in new intermediate-range missiles which led to the demise of the INF treaty.

In these difficult times, we must avoid miscalculations and misunderstandings. And we need to rebuild trust where possible. We aspire for a more constructive relationship with Russia. All of this is why we keep our diplomatic channels to Moscow open.

But our diplomatic efforts can only be effective if we engage Russia from a position of credible deterrence and credible defence.

In recent years, we have implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. We have strengthened our military posture from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. And increased the readiness of our forces. For the first time in our history we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of our Alliance. And American forces are there too.

We are also responding in a defensive and measured way to Russia’s violation of the INF treaty. And to the presence of new Russian missiles in Europe. Missiles that are mobile, easy to hide and able to reach major European cities with little warning time.

We will not mirror what Russia is doing. We have no intention to deploy new ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe. But we will consider our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Our air and missile defences. And our conventional capabilities. Because ultimately, it is our military strength that provides the conditions for our diplomatic achievements.

The same is true when it comes to dealing with international terrorism. In Afghanistan, our military presence supports the Afghan security forces, so they can create the conditions for peace. We need to show the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield, and so they must come to the negotiating table.

NATO supported the US-led peace talks earlier this year. And I would welcome them to be resumed.

But in order to make that possible, the Taliban need to demonstrate real willingness to make real compromises. To reach a credible peace deal. We do not negotiate with the brutal terrorist organisation ISIS. We fight them. It was the military force of the US-led Global Coalition that has enabled enormous progress against ISIS. NATO and all NATO Allies are part of the Coalition. Together, we succeeded in liberating the vast territory and the millions of people that ISIS had captured.   

The situation in Northern Syria remains fragile and it is no secret that NATO Allies have different views. But we agree on the need to preserve the gains made by the Coalition. This includes continuing to partner with Iraqis to help them build, train and educate the security forces they need. So they can ensure that ISIS does not return.

We are also working with other countries in the region, such as Jordan and Tunisia. Helping them build their local counter-terrorism capacity. 

We need to use political tools alongside the military ones. We will continue to support the UN-led efforts to achieve a sustainable political solution in Syria.

Diplomacy combined with military strength is also important as we adapt to a shifting global balance of power.

A key driver for this is China. China will soon have the world’s biggest economy. And it already has the second largest defence budget, investing heavily in new capabilities. Only in the last five years, China has added 80 ships and submarines to its navy – the equivalent of the whole UK Royal Navy. It has hundreds of missiles with a range that would have been prohibited by the INF treaty. And it recently displayed an advanced intercontinental nuclear missile able to reach the United States and Europe.  As well as a new supersonic cruise missile, an assortment of new drones, anti-ship missiles and hypersonic glider.  

China is becoming a leader in the development of new technology. From 5G to facial recognition. And from quantum computing to gathering vast amounts of global data.

We need to better understand the rise of China. And what it means for our security. In terms of opportunities and challenges.

We have to remember that as long as NATO Allies stand together, we represent half of the world’s economic might. And half of the world’s military might. So as the global balance of power is shifting, it’s even more important to keep your allies and friends close.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It takes a lot of hard work every day to keep our Alliance strong. To preserve our military superiority. And to protect our way of life. None of this comes for free. All NATO Allies are increasing defence spending, more Allies are meeting the guideline of spending 2% of GDP on their defence.

And a majority of allies have plans in place to spend 2 % of GDP by 2024. By the end of next year, European allies and Canada will have added one hundred billion US dollars to their defence budgets since 2016. This is making NATO stronger. And it is a great success. And we are determined to keep up the momentum. Our unity is our greatest strength. So we must work through our differences and find the way forward together. As we have successfully been doing for seventy years. And it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to uphold that unity.

I probably would not be receiving this award if all Allies always agreed on everything. As my job would be a lot easier!

But just like my father, I believe in the power of compromise. Reaching compromise can be difficult, and it can take time.

But ultimately, when 29 nations speak with one voice, their voice is more powerful than any other in the world.

NATO is a military powerhouse, and a unique diplomatic ‘force multiplier’. To keep our nations safe we need credible defence combined with relentless diplomacy.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what NATO is all about!

Thank you.